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Monday, October 25, 2010

Statesville NC Balloon Festival? NOT!

Here is a pictorial essay of our adventure on Saturday October 23rd,  trying to go to the 2010 Statesville Balloon Festival held at the airport.

(1)  4:00 PM.  Have spent the last hour sitting in stop and go traffic on a two lane road -  still have traveled only 1 mile from home on Highway 70 North and look at the view in my rear view mirror!

(2) At 75 minutes, we finally make the left turn on to airport road. The line goes as far as the eye can see.

(3) At 90 minutes, we breach the hill and notice the intersection where traffic is coming in from I-40 in the opposite direction.  We roll down the window and question a neighbor standing in his yard - he says there is 2-3 miles still to go!  Now I am low on gas and not sure I have enough to spare another hour or two of idling in stalled traffic .. and worried about the traffic trying to get home later ....  I give up and take a sharp right toward I-40 E to get the hell out of Dodge!  

At 4:45 PM I  round a short curve in the road and am amazed at the line of vehicles still trying to get into the festival.  The traffic here stretches out for miles trying to get in to the airport grounds.

(4) What’s this????    This is a two-lane road – why are there trucks and cars coming toward me in MY lane?????


(5)     This is NOT funny! These trucks force me off the road and lumber on past as I sit in the grass cussing loud enough for everyone to hear with my windows down and the sun roof open.


 (6)   4:50 PM.   It is no joke – traffic was backed up for MILES at each intersection. No one was directing traffic. We made it back to I-40 East and stopped to take a picture of the traffic lined up on I-40 West trying to get off at the exit with no hope of making it to the synchronized lift off of the hot air balloons.

Adding insult to injury, a local radio station was reporting live from the festival with the mayor and talking about how well traffic was flowing with approximately 15 minutes of drive time to get there.    In what universe?? Or maybe they were referring to how long it would take in a hot air balloon. Certainly no one driving was getting anywhere in 15 minutes!

So, after almost 2 hours of driving, we came home and ate pizza.  Never saw a single balloon except for the views we got for free from home early in the morning when they flew directly over the house.   Should have taken a damn picture then!


Monday, September 20, 2010

How to safely ship an antique doll

So, you were fortunate enough to buy an antique doll at an estate sale and made great money when you sold it. Now it is time to ship the doll to your buyer – do you know how to package an antique doll? Really?

Here is an excerpt from an email I recently received from a professional package and ship company when I made specific recommendations on how my purchase of antique dolls should be shipped to ensure they arrive safely. They declined my suggestions with excuses on why it would be impossible, implausible, and/or ‘cost a small fortune’ etc. “Let me detail how we've successfully packed and shipped dolls like this in the past. The torso, head, and extremities will be bubble wrapped separately to avoid contact with each part. We will be using numerous layers of wrap (both small and large bubble). This box will have room for 3-4 inches of packing peanuts around both dolls. Our boxes are rated for up to 200 pounds.” Sounds good, right?

Wrong. The single greatest cause of damage when shipping an antique doll occurs from contact within the packaging, not from external points of impact, rough handling or crushing. The culprit comes from within the doll’s head itself – the eyes.

Antique glass doll eyes on rocker with lead weight

If your antique bisque doll has sleep eyes that open and close when the doll is moved from a prone to standing position, there is a mechanism inside the doll’s head that is creating this movement. In most cases the eyes are attached to a rocker arm with a center pendulum and a heavy lead weight at the base. This eye assembly is held in place inside the doll’s head with plaster at each temple. During shipment as the package is handled, the doll’s eyes can open and close rapidly and violently and often this action will dislodge the old dried plaster. That leaves the super fragile blown glass eyes and a heavy lead weight (think large fishing lead sinkers) to clang about inside the doll’s head for the remainder of her shipping time. This usually causes the eyes to break and often the lead weight will fracture the head as well.

Doll's eyes broken inside head & head cracked

It is always heartbreaking as a collector to open a package and find an antique doll in this condition – a doll who survived countless children, ages in a closet, attic or barn and untold ravages of time only to be decimated by careless shipping.

So, what can you do to ensure your doll arrives safely? First, ASK YOUR BUYER. Most collectors and dealers have very specific instructions on how they would like their dolls to be shipped, up to and including removing the doll’s head.

Ideally, the doll’s wig and pate should have been removed and the inside of the head checked and light-tested for hairlines, damage or restoration before listing the doll – we can cover that another time. For this article, we will address only the safe shipping of the doll; however, if you discover damage or repairs once the wig and pate have been removed, STOP! and immediately contact your buyer.

View of the inside of a doll's head showing sleep eye mechanism -
note plaster holding the eyes in place on the sides

The typical process for preparing the doll’s head for shipping includes removing the wig and pate if this can be done safely without ripping or tearing the wig or damaging the head by carelessly prying with sharp tools. Once the pate (a cardboard, plaster or cork disk shape piece covering the head opening under the wig) is removed, the interior of the head is exposed and you will be able to see how the eyes are attached inside the head.

Example of a Kestner plaster pate covering the head opening

My preference is to package the dolls with the eyes open. With the eyes open, the pendulum on the rocker is in a down position and the lead weight should be resting on the cork stopper or pad inside the doll’s head around the area of the chin. If the eyes are closed, the doll is laying face up and the lead weight is suspended toward the back of the head with no support.

Start by laying the doll face down (the eyes will be open) on a soft padded surface and gently but firmly stuff the inside of the head with tissues or soft paper towels. Small pieces of tissue or paper densely packaged is preferable to large hunks of thick paper jammed in – it is possible to dislodge the eyes if this is done too roughly. The idea is to immobilize the eyes and to provide some extra cushion to the back of the eyes and to the plaster at the sides. If the eyes and plaster do come loose, they will not be able to bang around inside the head cavity.

     View of doll's head stuffed with tissues for shipping

Now that you have the inside of the head properly packaged, take care to protect the outside of doll’s head. A significant part of the value of an antique doll is in the head; chips, cracks and ‘hairlines” (very fine cracks the width of a hair) in the bisque or china all reduce the value. First, the entire head should be wrapped in soft tissue or paper. Many dealers use clean disposable baby or adult diapers for this as they provide excellent padding. You may also chose to place cotton balls or gauze pads over the doll’s open eyes. Please never tape over a doll’s eyes to keep them open or closed in shipping – if the plaster holding the eyes in place inside the head comes loose, the back of the eyes will detach and only the front of the eyes will remain affixed to the tape.

Prepare the doll’s body by wrapping each limb in tissue and/or bubble wrap to protect the fragile fingers, feet and shoes. Next, securely wrap the entire doll in clean bubble wrap and tape it closed. Literally mummify her - nothing should be moving, nothing should be loose. I also prefer to place the wrapped doll face down in the well padded box which further minimizes stress on the eye rockers and weights.

Improper packaging - note how INSIDE head is not stuffed

Then by all means use strong boxes and plenty of clean packing peanuts and/or packaging paper. Recycled newsprint is acceptable as long as it does not come in contact the doll or doll clothing. Before closing the shipping box include a copy of the invoice with your name and address and the buyer’s name and address. I purchase sheets of shipping labels (only $3 from the Ruby Lane Store) imprinted with my shop name and address which I affix to the mummified doll – if the doll at any point becomes separated from her box in some shipping mishap, the shipping company will have the resources to get her back home.

Finally, if you have questions about shipping an antique doll not covered here, ask one of the many Ruby Lane doll shop owners.  Or ask me.  Most of us are more than willing to help someone with questions about safely shipping these treasured antique dolls. And if you are buying an antique doll for the first time from a seller, ask them if they have experience shipping dolls. Make sure they know about protecting the doll’s eyes and head in shipping – many first time sellers do not know and truly appreciate the advice. Insurance can help recoup your losses from damage but it will never restore a fragile antique lost to preventable carelessness in shipping.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thank you!

The woman in line ahead of me at the post office was looking for the unemployment office. “They’ve move, no one was there. They didn’t even leave a note or a sign. Do you know where the new office is?” I shook my head, “No, sorry I don’t know.”

I still don’t know where the local unemployment office is and at the risk of sounding smug, I hope it stays that way. Because I am self employed: What my father would have called chief cook and bottle washer. And I am so grateful. So very grateful that in this economy, in these days of expiring unemployment benefits and double digit unemployment rates I can make my own way doing something that I absolutely love.

But the truth is, I don’t do it alone. I keep my head above water because Diane, quite likely the very best layaway customer I have ever had, sends her monthly payment like clockwork. I can play with dolls for a living because Michelle and Kathy and Gladys and Margery have my Ruby Lane shop bookmarked as a favorite, watch for new listings and buy when they can. Sometimes the purchase is only $10 - $25 now, but they have been with me as customers for a long time and when things turn around, so will their buying strength. Thank you, ladies!

A big thank you, too, to my fellow shop owners who have encouraged me, helped me and shared in the spirit of free trade! And let’s face it, a bit of competition makes us all better. Your expertise and photography inspires me!

Many of you started as customers and have become special friends – thank you Barb and Lorrie!

I appreciate each and every one of you who have purchased from me in the past four years. I am a Platinum level Ruby Lane shop because of you. If I have neglected to mention your first name in these accolades, it is only because you are so well known in our industry to do so would risk confidentially. But you know who you are – thank you!

My wonderful consignors! What would I do without you? Thank you for trusting me with your collections, for giving me the opportunity to work with some of the most fabulous people and incredible dolls of my career. I know these are difficult times for some of you – I, too, have sold my dolls to pay bills.

All of you need to know how blessed I feel each and every day that of all the options, the venues and other sellers you had available to you, you chose me. Because of you and a million other small miracles, I wear flip flops instead of heels, my morning commute is about 10 steps to my office and I love 99.99% of every minute of my day! Thank you!!!

"M" for Moola

It's amazing the things you find while you are looking for something else.    Yesterday I was restringing an antique doll and spied a missing S hook caught just inside the leg opening, wrapped in the old elastic cording. I dislodged the hook and out it came, bringing with it a confetti of tattered newsprint. The paper was brittle and brown and written in English. I checked the first few postage stamp sized scraps looking for a date, a city, some provenance for my dolly. There was a piece of a classified ad for a three bedroom home priced at $22,000 - how long as it been since a nice three bedroom house sold for 22K, in any city?

But there was more newspaper. Lots more. I was fairly certain the nineteenth century bisque doll was older than the newspaper and the paper was not original to her manufacture or used as filler for her composition body. Someone somewhere had put this folded newspaper inside the doll's body for safe keeping.

Was it a birth or wedding announcement? Maybe it was recipe for brownies or a favorite poem? Or an article about the doll or her owner? Or was something else wrapped in the newsprint? Hmmm .....??? Stashing cash in odd places is not unheard of, particularly for those who lived through the Depression. My mother still keeps her spare coins in old socks in her purse, which by the way came as a big surprise to the thief who once tried to pry it off her arm. She swung that satchel like a bat and he was out for the count until police collected him off the sidewalk! And she can still recall finding $100 bills stuffed inside her father's beloved German clocks after his death. In my own adventures in goodwill hunting I found the "M" volume of a set of encyclopedias cut out in the center in the exact shape of a stack of bills. Very ingenious, I thought; "M" for "money".

Wow, maybe I had stumbled upon a case of someone who used "doll" as a memory clue for hidden "dollars.”

After 30 minutes of digging, I had retrieved a sizeable cache of tattered newsprint but no cash. No “dollars” for "doll" - no "M" for "moolah for Marie". But I had pieced together enough of the newspaper's banner and scraps of holiday advertisements to narrow the origin and season to Christmas in Asheville, North Carolina, but still no date.

Asheville is in the North Carolina mountains, about 100 miles west of us. So strangely enough our little dolly had returned to North Carolina but is still a mystery where she has been in the last 70-80 years. Like many of my dolls, she arrived on my doorstep swathed in bubble wrap and stuffed in a cardboard box. There was a Massachusetts postmark on the package but nary a hint or whisper of where she has been or who has loved her all these years.

Or why someone in Asheville North Carolina filled her belly with newsprint one Christmas so long ago. And I know, … I know what you are thinking, but no, in this case, it was not the little Christmas mouse settling down for a long winter’s nap.   Not this time – the doll is pristine.

Sticks and Stones may break my bones ….

My father’s nick-name for me was String Bean – he meant it as a term of endearment I am sure but growing up lanky as a pine and stick straight like Twiggy in the era of bikini clad Raquel Welch and One Million Years B.C. was a real stressor. There are worse things. He called my sister Crisco, and she was his favorite.

But that wasn’t the worse thing – I called her Water Buffalo. Before I understood Karma and what goes ‘round, comes ‘round, an 8th grade chubbette with a huge bubblecut hairdo playing a tuba in the school marching band just brought out the cruel elder sibling gene in me. Plus she wore my clothes and stretched them all out. Turns out I was merely being prophetic – she morphed into a talented successful woman with musical talents and I just got round and rounder!

Apparently the karmic apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – my youngest son is fond of saying “Husky is a dog, not a size!” Seems he has some less than desirable preteen memories of me dragging him to the chubby section on the school clothes shopping trips. By fourteen, he was 6.6 and I told him that once he signed with the Chicago Bulls he would he have to fork over a million dollars a year just to keep me from going on late night TV with his potty training stories Well you can probably guess how well that game plan worked out for me!

Brusing for Serendipity

No, brusing is not a typo. I meant to write that. In fact, I just made it up. Go ahead, ask any antique doll collector what their ‘dream doll’ is and I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts (… no, I didn’t make that expression up, my mother did), the answer will be a “Bru.”

If you are not a doll collector let me just get a couple of things straight right off the bat – (1) I am not an expert on Bru dolls; and (2) French bisque dolls deserve to be at the top of every collector’s want list. Come to think of it, there are really three things you need to know – Bru are expensive. I mean really expensive, for an inanimate (and some might say darn right spooky) object d’art. But I digress; expensive is relative, after all.

After receiving two emails in as many days from customers mentioning Bru’s, their general availability and cost to own, I started to ponder the huge part serendipity played in buying my Bru without a second mortgage on my home. And then I made up my new word, brusing – or in laymen’s term, “browsing for Bru.” FYI: I don’t yet dare make that a plural – Bru’s – so for now, I will thank my lucky stars, all the planets and any friendly spirits of the ghostly persuasion that helped me find my own little Bru.

By way of introduction, the dolls I am raving about were created in Paris, France by Leon Casmir Bru, his wife and a succession of owners circa 1860-1890 give or take a decade. They are superior dolls in quality, construction and clothing – and valued at staggering price points depending on style, mold and costume. And what we in the doll collecting world like to call ‘The Face’, which actually drives more value than a Yugoslavian import. A doll’s great beauty, her face, her expression, speaks to the heart of the collector and to the expertise of the artist who painted her. I have seen Bru sell for $13,000 - $65,000 and up. And then there is what I actually paid for mine - $195. Like I said, serendipity.

Ok, to be fair – Bru values fluctuate even within a mold type or a style range. My Bru, as much as I love her, is not a head liner or even a head turner. She is a small 13 inch fashion doll with a sweet little face but with a less desirable kid leather body. If she had a jointed wooden body, I would still be doing cartwheels but at $195, a little happy dance every time I see her is certainly warranted.  Wouldn't you do a little jig, too??

What makes her such a great find is how I bought her - sight unseen from an international auction house. It was in the early days of online bidding. The description in the catalog was less than five words – no size, no condition, nadda, zip, zilch. There was just a single out of focus image of a doll on a table with only the outline of her clothing and her feet visible. But something about her little feet caught my eye – the shape of those shoes. I try to keep it under wraps but someday will have to seriously confront my doll shoe fetish!

Back to the auction…. I didn’t have time to ask questions, I couldn’t email for information– the auction was live and the moment was, well, it was “now or never”. My mouse finger hit BID and I held my breath – and NO ONE bid against me! I won her! Euphoria! Then my heart sank when I realized that no one at the live auction had bid – no one else wanted her. Oh no, was she a reproduction? Was she broken? How could I have been so stupid! I paid for my purchase and anxiously waited several weeks for her to arrive. In the meantime, I received absolutely no contact from the auction house, no response to my emails for shipping information.

Now here’s the real jaw-dropping serendipitous part – Earnestine, my perfect little Bru fashion doll with her original clothes, straw bonnet, wig, and all her immaculate unmentionables embroidered with tiny letter E’s, was shipped to me – in a padded mailer! No bubble wrap, no tissue, no packing peanuts, no box. All 13 inches of her, fragile bisque head and kid body with those incredibility tiny individual fingers, was stuffed into a large first class envelope for mailing books and documents. And she arrived without a scratch, a chip, a crack or even a bent finger.

I don’t know about you, but in my world – that is a “meant to be!”